Since they were made mandatory in the 1980s, children’s car seats have made travelling by car significantly safer for kids.
In 2019, a NSW Ombusdman report found that a third of children who died on the state’s roads probably would have survived, had they been in a car seat or wearing a seat belt.
Here’s how to make sure your child’s car seat is as safe as possible, as well as compliant with your state’s laws.
When can a child use a seat belt?
Child seat laws across Australia are based on the model Australian Road Rules — the actual enforcement of the laws is done by the state and territories.
Seatbelts are designed for adults and aren’t recommended for people under 145cm tall. This advice isn’t well followed in Australia — the average age a child transitions to a seat belt in New South Wales is only 5.6 years old. Until a child reaches 145cm tall, it’s safer for them to remain in a child restraint or booster seat.
All jurisdictions require children’s car seats meet the compulsory sections of the Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754.
If your child outgrows the child restraint specified for their age, they should move to the next age level. If your child isn’t big enough for restraint specified for their age, you should keep them at the previous level.
If you fail to comply with seat belt and child seat laws, you risk being fined as well as your child’s safety.
Australian child seat laws
- In Australia, children under 6 months old must use a rear facing child restraint. Once they reach 6 months, they can use a forward-facing restraint. They cannot travel in the front seat if the vehicle has two or more rows of seats.
- Children between 4 and 7 can sit in approved forward facing child restraints or booster seats, and may sit in the front seat provided all other seats are occupied by children also younger than 7 years old. The largest child should sit in the front in an approved restraint or booster.
- Children older than 7 can use the vehicle’s seatbelt, or continue to use their child seat.
Replacing a car seat after an accident
If you’ve been involved in a car accident, the safest choice is to always replace your child’s car seat. Damage to the booster may not be visible, however it may fail if placed under the stress of another accident.
Besides the safety concerns, your insurance company may require you to replace your car seats to ensure your policy remains valid. Some insurers offer to cover the cost of replacements — consult your policy documents for more information.
In the long term, modern child restraints and boosters in Australia typically have an expiration date — usually ten years after manufacture. While this isn’t enforced by law, it’s recommended you replace seats after they expire due to the risk of failure increasing as the materials in the seat degrade over time. Like cars, child car seat technology continues to improve, so a newer seat is likely to offer safety improvements in its construction and design.
Shine Lawyers — here to help
If you or a loved one has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, our expert compensation claim experts can help. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your legal rights and entitlements, including through your superannuation.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: December 21, 2020.